“Sanctions, anyone?” taunted RT, the Kremlin-controlled television network, in its report on the successful delivery of Russian natural gas to Boston Harbor on Sunday. Despite US efforts to hold Russia accountable for its war in Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea, one of the companies sanctioned by the Obama administration overcame those obstacles with a symbolic flourish, by delivering its very first liquefied natural gas shipment to the United States.
It’s been a bad week for efforts to deter Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. News emerged that Russia’s spy chief had been allowed to visit the United States, in apparent violation of the sanctions; the Trump administration announced a set of toothless responses to Putin’s 2016 election meddling; and the Gaselys, a ship whose cargo included Russian gas, chugged into Everett to fill cold-weather energy demand that the Commonwealth chooses not to meet with domestic natural gas.
Distrigas, the firm that imported that liquefied natural gas, said the transaction wasn’t prohibited, because the restrictions apply only to the company that exported it from its gas fields in Siberia, not to the liquefied natural gas itself. But the workaround clearly violated the spirit of measures designed to put a price on Russia’s aggression by punishing companies and individuals linked to the Ukraine war.
Another tanker, expected to carry Russian gas from the same facility, is due later this month, but the company should reconsider the purchase, and the state should reconsider the policies that put Massachusetts at the mercy of foreign gas imports. The United States is the world’s largest producer of natural gas, but deliveries in New England are hampered in cold winters by constrained pipelines, which officials like Attorney General Maura Healey have resisted expanding, and a longstanding federal law that effectively prevents marine shipments to Boston from American LNG producers.
Policy makers have imposed a double standard, rejecting domestic gas over solvable concerns while accepting, with apparently no questions asked, the need for foreign LNG shipments with troubling environmental and human rights implications.
But members of the area’s Ukrainian-American community — an estimated 90,000 Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Americans live in Greater Boston — are asking questions.
“I’m outraged,” said Peter Woloschuk, a former Globe journalist who writes about Boston’s Ukrainian-American community. “How is it that our government hasn’t spoken up?” Boston hospitals, he noted, have helped treat war victims; a Boston-based nonprofit sends about $100,000 a year in surgical supplies to Ukraine. “Here we are taking care of the victims of Russian aggression, and Distrigas is giving money to Russians and a Russian government that’s going to be used to create more victims.”
Members of the local Ukrainian-American community were drafting a letter of protest to Distrigas on Wednesday night, and Woloschuk said there were plans to hold a protest at the company’s Everett terminal within the next few days.
“I don’t want to use Russian gas,” said Vsevolod Petriv, the chairman of the Boston branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. “I’m not sure why we can’t use our own gas.”
Petriv said attention in the United States had slipped since the dramatic Kiev protests that drove out pro-Putin leader Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, and the subsequent war instigated by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Had a gas shipment from a Putin-linked firm arrived when more of the world’s focus was on Ukraine, he said, “there probably would have been more reaction.”
Still, he said Ukrainians wouldn’t be deterred by waning public attention and the holes that seem to be opening in US sanctions. Although the heaviest fighting has tapered off, the war continues to claim lives; the death toll recently topped 10,000 killed, according to the United Nations.
“We’re in this, we’re going to win, we’re going to hold on,” he said. “If the rest of the world wants to support us, fine. If they don’t, we’re still going to do it.”